Sunday, June 22, 2008

WWJD? Who Cares. What I really want to know is WWWDD

I've been reading about Wylie Dufresne for years and my inner food fanatic has been dying to get to WD-50 for what seems like an eternity.

A few months ago I decided to get something on the calendar. My foodie friend and I often go visit her brother in NYC so I decided I would make reservations for our next trip.

It was tough going but I managed to score 7:30 reservations about four weeks out (early by city standards but better then the 11:30's they had offered me for every other weekend night). As circumstances would have it both of my dining partners ended up canceling on me but I decided, come hell or high water, I was still going to go.

At the last minute another friend decided to join me. She agreed to go on one condition - that we order the chef's tasting AND wine pairing. She said she would only go that far and spend that much if we were going to see what Wylie could really do. As you can imagine there were no arguments here and I happily agreed.

My excitement grew as the date approached. I began having daydreams of biting into a perfect forkful of Iberian Ham with a Green Olive Tartufo and weeping at the sheer brilliance of it all. I imagined begging the waiter to let me kiss the hem of Wylie's apron and fawning over the sommelier's ability to perfectly marry the acidity of the ceviche with an organic Alsatian style Pinot Grigio. Sigh... it was going to be good.

Finally the day arrived. I didn't eat for a day and a half in preparation. I wanted to be sure that my stomach was empty and my palate was primed.

The weather was perfect and the crowds were lively as we strolled up Clinton in the Lower East Side. I spotted the unassuming restaurant facade and hurried in.

My first thought was that the place was too casual (the wait staff were wearing jeans!) for a meal that I know I was going to spend $250 on, but I shrugged off the thought. I reassured myself it was all really about the food anyway.

We were seated, and I was delighted to have a seat allowing me to gawk directly into the kitchen and at Wylie himself with his long goofy hair. Alright I thought - get ready for a true food experience.

Our adequate, but not overly friendly, waiter (IN JEANS!) handed us menus and provided a few opening words.

We immediately paged to the tasting menu to get a peek at what we were in for. I was shocked to see that the tasting menu here was the same (word for word) as the tasting menu that I had been studying online for the last few months. It hadn't changed a bit!?!?!

Now I must veer slightly off course... The concept of a tasting menu that doesn't change baffles my mind. One pays a lot of money to partake in a chef's tasting. You pay this money in exchange for getting something really special. It is like an agreement between you and the chef - I pay more, you show me what you can really do. WWWDD? Apparently the same thing he has been doing for months. Really Wylie?

Yes, of course certain dishes should stay the same, but some should change - didn't he see something particularly beautiful at the produce market last week or wake up in the middle of the night and realize that the the Chilled Beet and Blue Cheese Soup should REALLY be Endive Topped with Grilled Skate Served with a Lemon Caper Vinaigrette. Dammit!

Really, isn't that why we wouldn't just order À la carte? Double Dammit!

Sorry. Back to business. We announced that we were here to do the tasting ($125) and wine pairing (additional $75.00).

I'm not including the technical names of the wine and courses here as they all live on the website (insert me giving a raised eyebrow look).

Almost immediately "bread" appears in a long wooden box. The "bread" was paper thin crisp pieces of salty dry flat bread covered in oodles of sesame seeds. Each piece melted on the tongue upon contact. Yum.

Next came our first wine - a ruddy, sweet and fizzy brut called 'Rosat'. The waiter informed us that all 12 courses come paired with a 2 oz. pour.

The first course came beautifully presented. It was small. Laughably small. It was a forkful (I am being generous in using the term forkful - more like a fork-tip-ful) of smoked mackerel with a cucumber twirl. I asked my dining partner if I had misheard that this was our first "course" thinking that it must be the amuse-bouche but she assured me that I had not.

To be honest, I'm not sure how I can report on the quality of this "course" since there really wasn't enough food there for an honest opinion of the taste. Shrug.

We finished up our 'Rosat' and were wondering aloud what our second wine would be when out it came. Our server poured us our second wine pairing, this time... 'Rosat'...? Yes. The same wine again. Hmm... Strange.

The second course was something called Pizza Pebbles. It was a series of dime sized "pebbles" (three or four) which tasted, as my dining partner so comically and uncouthly commented, like "the inside of those little soft pretzel things you make in the microwave".

They were served on a smear of uneventful sauce with tiny flakes of crisp shiitake mushroom chips. The saving grace in this dish was the tiny oregano leaves which provided a deep fresh flavor. The problem was that they were about the size of a pencil eraser and there were only two or three of them. The whole dish was, once again, enough to fit on a fork.

We kept trying to flag down the waiter to get a description of all the intricate tastes on the plates (black tea flakes, kimchi paste and pine needles abound) but we were having a hard time getting much help with descriptions. The wait staff (of which we had several) were not forthcoming with descriptions even when prodded, save one server who was more then happy to describe the dishes. Unfortunately he was from Senegal and very hard to understand above the hustle and bustle of the restaurant. At one point one server actually draws back from us and says that he has a menu for us to take at the end of the meal and that he prefers to withhold it in order to maintain an air of "surprise".

The next wine was a light crisp French white which was the highlight of the pairing. It was quickly followed by course three - a Hamachi tartar. This dish was my least favorite. The Hamachi was just plane fishy and the dish was garnished with a grapefruit-shallot jelly which made it all very bitter.

Yay wine. Boo stinky fish....

Next was a foie gras "knot". Imagine a thin piped line of terrine of foie gras which was tied into a knot. This knot was then covered in "rice crisps" providing a crunch to the previously soft terrine.

This course was strangely paired with an organic sake. I don't really know what to say about this one. The pairing seemed weird to me (sake smack in the middle of the wines seemed disjointed) and the foie gras was good but can you really make foie gras NOT taste good?

A new face appeared to server our next wine. He was in a suit so I asked if he was our sommelier. There was a awkward stumble before he said that yes, he was.

I asked him his name. He said Aaron. I said "Aarooonnn...." (as-in the international sign for what is your last name) again he hesitated. Is he yanking my chain? I thought. I mean, if you are the sommelier at one of the best known restaurants in the city don't you think you would b

e used to giving your full name? Strange.

He served our next wine, a Pinot Noir from Oregon. He said that it was from the O'Reilly vineyard. I mentioned that I had been noticing a trend of more Irish vintners. He looked confused and didn't seem to have any kind of comment one way or the other. Lastly my dining partner asked if he got to travel to purchase the wines and he laughed and said no but that he has met with a few reps that come into the restaurant. Hmm....

Even though this was a jarring encounter I was soon distracted by the next course which turned out to be my favorite course of the evening. It was simply titled Eggs Benedict.

I thought this was the course that best supported Wylie's reputation for dabbling in molecular gastronomy. Our waiter described the plate as cubes of fried hollandaise sauce with towers of egg yoke. He warned that the cubes were still sauce inside. I cut one with my fork the cube turned immediately into sauce, as if magic. The towers of egg yolk were
bright yellow, translucent and beautiful. It looked and tasted wonderful. Bravo.

Out came the sixth course. The courses were now coming a little too fast and we actually had to ask our waiter to create a short 5 minute break.

The same wine (Which I will remind you was a robust red) was repeated for the next course - A sort of 'ravioli' or soybean noodle which envelopes a "crab tail". All of this was submerged in a bowl of fragrant clear broth smelling strongly of cinnamon. The dish was good, not great, and was very light.

A hearty red wine paired with such a light dish was a surprise. If they were trying for surprise then they won. If not, then boo.

Next came a
Grenache from Australia called "Tir Na N'Og"... again with the Irish. I didn't ask and they didn't offer an explanation. It was served with the "Chicken liver spaetzle" which tasted good but looked like hell. Chicken liver puree piped into worm-like pieces... Double boo. The courses were getting extremely rich as well. We were getting icky meat/wine belly.

The same wine was repeated for the next course (third repeat of the pairing). This was our final savory course and by far the best.

The tongue. Ribbons of tongue adorned the plate along side oyster noodles, fried quinoa pieces, and candy sized pieces of jellied cherry-miso. The savory meat matched with the sweet cherry jelly made for a perfect marriage. It was different, and delicious, and beautiful.

We were full as hell but there was still sweets to come.

Next came a pre-dessert. An long brittle tube of olive oil filled with a Greek yogurt lay in the bowl like a cigarette atop ribbons of dried candied rhubarb. The dish only slightly hinted at sweet and really did provide a perfect bridge between the savory and sweet courses. No wine came with this course.

Next came a sweet German Riesling and a banana dessert with jasmine custard. Both un-cataclysmic.

A final glass of wine came alongside the winner of the entire event - Toasted coconut cake, carob, smoked cashew, brown butter sorbet. It may have been the best dessert I have ever had and it made me want to give Alex Stupak a kiss on the mouth. Yum it was good.

And that was the end of that. We were drunk, we were full, and we had had a pleasant evening judging the hell out of everything.

They offered us a cup of coffee and my dining partner accepted.

We were high on life and ready to stroll.

The bill came alongside two final bites - a ball
of "Yuzu ice cream with marcona almond" and a little edible packet filled with something sweet.

The edible packet looked like those seaweed packets that I used to search for at the ocean that popped when you stepped on them. The taste was nothing special but the strangeness of it was noteworthy.

The bill was over $500 with tip. They charged us for the coffee. After all of that spending they charged us $3.50 for a 20 cent cup of coffee. Nice.

Maybe WD has lost his spunk. Maybe he never had it. Maybe I just was the unfortunate victim of another Saturday-night-in-NYC-dining-experience. Regardless something was off. Ah well, all said and done it was a very pleasant evening. I had amazing company, I was inarguably full to the brim, I was content and most importantly, I got an answer to the question - WWWDD?

WD-50 - 50 Clinton St New York, NY 10002
(212) 477-2900

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